For the last 30 years, architect Marek Jan Štěpán has been working around the idea of a church dedicated to beatified Marie Restituta. For its design, the sacred space uses a circular floor plan, an age-long symbol of heaven and eternity. Though a rainbow window, the circular roof reflects a colorful spectrum of light that creates a floating effect and amplifies the sacred character of the construction.
The Church of Beatified Restituta Technical Information
- Architects: Atelier Štěpán
- Design Team: Marek Jan Štěpán (author), Vanda Štěpánová, František Brychta, Jan Vodička, Martin Kopecký
- Location: Nezvalova street, Brno – Lesná, Czech Republic
- Client: Roman Catholic Parish of Brno-Lesná
- Topics: Concrete, Coloured Glass, Churches
- Built-up Area: 1,220 m2
- Usable Floor Area: 2,350 m2
- Church Dimensions: Diameter 25 m, Height 18.5 m (tower 31 m)
- Project Completion: 2020
- Photographs: © BoysPlayNice
There surely are matters that transcend us and that are veiled because they lie on or beyond the very limits of our human perception. If there is any way to interpret them architectonically, I attempted at that in the form of the Lesná church dome.
– Marek Štěpán
The Church of Beatified Restituta / The Rainbow Church Photographs
Text by the Architects
The intention to build a church dedicated to Beatified Marie Restituta first came up in the relaxed atmosphere of 1968 and was finally fulfilled after 50 years. Its location was chosen by the architects František Zounek and Viktor Rudiš. Offerings and donations fully funded the church.
The church is located in the heart of the housing estate at the mouth of the Čertova Rokle ravine. The area is covered with tall concrete apartment buildings. The new church cannot compete with them in terms of size, which is why it has been designed to be very simple in expression, elementary in geometry, and therefore easily legible.
A rectangular plateau is laid out on the plot that defines the sacred district. There are three basic masse: the church, the tower, and the spiritual center (designed by Zdeněk Bureš). The original center is rectangular, the tower is triangular, and the church is circular, which means the three basic geometric shapes are all represented. The sacred district is built on a completely different scale, which differentiates it from the surrounding blocks of flats and creates a dominant on a wholly new level.
The church has a circular floor plan. The circle is an age-long symbol of heaven and eternity (in contrast to the square, which refers to earth and transience). The heaven is reflected back in the colorful annular window that embraces the church just below the roof.
It might be said that the circle is floating above Lesná or, on a symbolic, metaphysical level, that the heaven is floating above Lesná. There are several reasons why we chose a circular shape for the church. The circle is the shape of fullness. It is the full stop in the area of the housing estate and its spiritual focal point that should serve as a place where people can break out of the daily hustle, rest for a while, or recollect themselves. The circle is also very close to the contemporary perception of the liturgy in the church that represents the community of the Apostles and Jesus around the table during the Last Supper. The tabernacle is located in a tall apse illuminated from above that is situated on the left side of the church. A triangular opening tears the church wall at this point, which serves as a reference to the tear in the Jerusalem temple curtain.
The light falls inside the church but the source cannot be seen. The windows are hidden behind a wide ledge. The source of the light is veiled. On both conscious and unconscious levels, the light in the church represents the existence of the world beyond our physical experience and the existence of God. Here, the supernatural character of the light is acquired through its diffusivity. Abbot Suger considered the light that permeates and shapes the matter to be a direct sign of “the Light of Lights”, meaning God Himself. Although almost a thousand years have passed, I have to agree with him. Or, as Umberto Eco writes in his book1, God is “identified by brilliance that has the character of a light current and permeates the whole universe.
– Marek Štěpán – The Light
The asymmetric dome is cast into a matrix made of wooden planks that resemble a fingerprint so giant that it looks like the fingerprint of God (God’s Touch). Thus, if you want, you can experience God’s touch here (not just thanks to the dome, of course).
The Interior and the Rainbow
The interior of the church forms an inner universe. It is an organ for communication with God. It is simple, composed, and collected. The visitor should feel safe, balanced, and undisturbed by the outside world, almost like in the mother’s womb. The soft and sleek lines of the structure form a disembodied inner space shaped by the light coming from the annular window above. Its purpose is to give indirect, soft daylight that does not cast hard shadows. The symbol of the covenant between God and His people – the rainbow – is depicted on this 80-meter-long window. A circular rainbow is a phenomenon that can be observed from high altitudes, often from planes. The light is turned into an element that hints on something beyond the limits of material reality, something barely perceivable with our senses.
The question of the perception of a church is a question of the contemporary perception of the world. For instance, in the baroque period the church interior was completely covered or depicted. It served as a kind of comic book because the visitors were not able to read – so the life of Jesus and of the saints and the stories of the Old Testament were depicted in the church in various forms. Today, the situation is reversed. We live in the world full of easily accessible information, of visual and other sensations attacking us on every front, so the church should serve as a space for contemplation, a space stripped of superfluous visual and other sensations.
– Marek Štěpán – Baroque
The tower stands further from the church. Its triangular floor plan ensures that it looks different from the inside of the church than it seems from the outside. From the outside, it serves as a fixed point, a static kubus that refers to the westworks of the old churches, and that anchors the whole compound on a small promontory. The side facing the church is open with a square lantern, and there is a yellow part with a glockenspiel and a red part with a lookout on the Brno city center.
The tower is both a vertical and horizontal. Unlike the historic towers that point only to heaven like a rocket, here, the direction is diverted. It points to the church, which represents the vertical of the relationship between God and his people. Being 31 meters high, it is a local dominant even though it is not higher than the surrounding blocks of flats. A steel spiral staircase goes through the concrete tower, which, when looking above, reminds one of the color scheme and the shape of the church dome. The sign FOS ZOE (meaning light and life) in the form of the cross is inscribed on the tower. The same symbol was found in archaeological digs in Mikulčice, dating back to the Velká Morava period.
The material of the building follows up on the material mostly used in the surrounding housing estate, which is concrete. It is built on pilots as one dilatation unit. Prestressed reinforced concrete is used for the most strained parts – wreaths and chancels, chancels are covered by moniers constructions. Distinctive colorful elements complement the concrete materials. The church is designed as environmentally friendly, as the parishioners requested. A ground source heat pump provides heating.
The most beautiful quality of concrete is that it is truthful; it reflects the effort and energy put into the formwork, into the pouring and compacting of the concrete, into the processing of the additives and the mixture. All that will have an impact on the surface, in its vivacity, as a reflection of life. A parallel can be found in the historic stone masonry made of individual blocks of different hues and cementing the joints. With concrete, there are the imprints of the shuttering interstices, distinct surfaces imprinted by the shuttering, and slightly different concrete in every pouring, which means that poured concrete visually follows up on the stone masonry.
The austerity of concrete also refers to the contemporary perception of the sacral space, which should not be visually or semantically overloaded. There is an interesting fact regarding the precise details and the finishing of the surfaces. Muhammad Lasfer from Algeria was in charge of the surfaces, and I think that as a Moslem originally from the Middle East, he has a close affinity to abstraction that is desired when working with concrete surfaces.
The Church of Beatified Restituta Plans
The Church of Beatified Restituta Image Gallery
About Atelier Štěpán
Atelier Štěpán was founded in 1997 by the married couple Vanda and Marek Štěpán. It focuses on architecture, public space, and design. Since then, the studio has profiled itself into a firm creating quality Bohemian and Moravian architecture. Author of the concept of minimal housing, Freedomek, Marek Štěpán is currently at the head of the Laboratory of Sacral Space at the Institute for Architecture (ARC) of the Faculty of Civil Engineering at the Brno University of Technology. During the years 2006-2012, he was an external consultant for architecture for the head of the Office of the President of the Republic. He formulated the theory of décor of structures in architecture. In his work, he is inspired by both tradition and modernism.
- Umberto Eco: History of Art